Why I Hired a Writing Mentor — Part 2: Now What?

By Susannah Noel

A month ago, I took one step closer to my dream of being a full-time freelance writer: I went down to half-time at my day job as a marketing manager, with the intention of using my newfound time to build my freelance copywriting business.

Two weeks ago, after the initial thrill of having more time to sleep and exercise, I realized I had something else: panic.

The cold, hard truth is that being half-time gives me, well, half the money. And building a business is slow work; so far, I have no new clients. Instead of feeling entrepreneurial and in control, this move to part-time has made me just feel . . . scared.

Uncertainty of Legendary Proportions

There is a well-worn story about a young woman during olden times who vows to see the world and sets out from her comforting village with her trusty mare and some dry biscuits. She realizes, a week or so into her journey, when she’s hungry and scared of marauders, that she’s made a terrible mistake. Only she knows, on the deepest level, that she can’t possibly go home.

Legend or no, that’s exactly how I feel. Although I’m supposed to now have several extra hours a day to build up my writing career, I never really feel them. I just pick up the boys early and take a spin on the treadmill, and there goes my extra time. I’m living off credit cards, and I have no real plan in place.

But I can’t go back. I was burning out so fast I could smell smoke. Working a full-time job an hour away from home while taking care of my two kids was an exercise in exhaustion. I still long for that gilt-edged freelance life — making my own schedule, doing interesting work, and earning solid money, all while keeping up with the boys’ school, karate, and playdates.

Insert Spirituality Here

It’s come to my attention — through a couple of excellent books and the ministrations of a dear friend — that I’m somewhat lacking in the spirituality department. I don’t necessarily mean religion, but the practices and rituals that keep me in touch with my core values and remind me of a higher purpose, whatever I feel it to be.

In fact, I’m not even sure I know what my core values are. And higher purpose? I want to glibly say, “Less work, more money,” but I know that’s a cop-out.

And yet, I do feel the need to be guided by something deeper — something that can give me courage as my horse and I stumble through the vast forest.

Loving my kids to pieces and wanting to give them a healthy home with the most awesome mom ever is a great starting point. But it has to go further than that. I need to explore what else, in addition to my children, I consider most important. Until I do that, I’ll be driven by the understandable but unbalanced need to achieve, achieve,Β achieve.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Despite what my brain tells me in the middle of the night, I have come a long way. For instance, a year ago, I would never have imagined I’d have a writing mentor or be guest blogging on one of the top 10 blogs of 2010/2011.

If I simply keep taking baby steps, then eventually the trees will thin out and I’ll come out of the dark wood. I’ll have some clients, I’ll be actively networking online and in person, and I’ll be making real money from my freelance writing. (Scheduling my second phone conversation with Carol will also provide a huge boost.)

And as I move toward that goal, instead of getting caught up in the worries of income, clients, and schedules, I need to develop an understanding of my core values, and then make it a habit to renew my commitment to them, regularly. I also must take time every day to recover from the stress of my hectic life. This should be just as much a priority as reading yet another blog or listening to one more podcast about how to improve my Vermont copywriter website.

The dream is still alive. With my horse and my blossoming spirit — as well as a business loan so I can stop living off credit cards — I’ll get there yet.

Where are you on your freelance-writing path? Quit the day job? Freelancing on the side? Leave a comment and tell us your goals.

Susannah Noel is a Vermont SEO copywriter delivering meticulous copy that drives traffic and boosts sales. She’s also a copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books.

To follow Susannah’s freelance-writing journey, subscribe to this blog.

(I’m glad Susannah was able to take it today…I was busy over on WriteToDone, contributing to a post with tips from all the Top 10 Blogs for Writers winners…check it out! 10 Tips for Writing Excellence from Top Writing Bloggers)

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21 comments on “Why I Hired a Writing Mentor — Part 2: Now What?
  1. Kevin says:

    I just came across Writing for a Living and was led here. I noticed the posts are old and was wondering how things are going for you now. I’m looking forward to working towards my goal of quitting my job to work as a writer full time.I am inspired by all those who are doing this as well as working towards the same goal. I think it’s a good Idea to find other who share similar goals to hang out with!

  2. Tony says:

    Thank you for your article. I have been hoping to find someone I can relate to. I have been writing in a personal journal since my teen years with a few years off in between. I am 30 now. I found something that I am insanely passionate about and I am in the beginning stages of starting a blog to write about it. I feel that my message is tremendously unconventional and I am not sure if I will be able to successfully monetize the size. However, I still want to quit my job and pursue my passion which is writing. We have savings and my wife (almost) makes enough to cover all of our expenses (we have two daughters). Life would not be as comfortable as it is now but I still want to take a flying leap of faith! My wife is supportive and is willing to give me two years to build something that will at least cover our expenses. Then she wants to quit her job to pursue her jewelry making business. Taking the leap is kind of terrifying. I’m itching to get out of this 9-5 and get started but common sense is telling me to keep the job until the end of 2011 so we can save more and so I have time to learn more about blogging and how to improve my writing. Thanks for listening.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Tony —

      This blog is here to support you!

      If you think your current blog isn’t readily monetizable, feel free to start a few more. Most of the big bloggers make big money because they have multiple sites.

  3. Yes, some of these mentors charge a lot of money. That’s why you have to interview, do some price comparison. Sometimes, it is easier (and cheaper) to build a relationship through a conference or seminar to find a mentor. Many great writers teach at the same conference or workshop each year. Make a connection, you just might find a mentor, someone who will challenge and champion your work.

  4. Susannah,
    There are many who want to do what you are doing but don’t have the courage. I am sure that your kids see the difference
    and may be influenced now but certainly will be later when they cross some of the same bridges. It is great to see that energy put
    forth to the universe as it will feed more of the same; a dedication to life-long dreams despite obstacles. As Wayne Dwyer says,
    “Don’t die with your music still inside you.” Not that you are going to die anytime soon! But you are now letting that music
    out and it is a beautiful step.

    • Hi Wyatt! I like that mind-set – focusing on what the kids will take away from this in the long term. I have to admit, I never thought of that. It’s not easy to ignore the voices saying “Buy them that new toy! Spend more time with them! Sign them up for every sport, music lesson, and karate class there is!” But there’s more to parenting than making your kids happy NOW.

      Thanks for writing, Wyatt. I really appreciate your insight.

      Susannah

  5. Hi Susannah, and good luck to you. As a Susanna (no h) who lived in VT for 12 years, I see we have more than writing in common. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Susanna! I spelled my name your way when I was in first grade. I thought I’d switch it from -h to no h year by year, but I quickly realized that was going to make life difficult. I like the no h spelling.

      Have I seen you on Third Tribe? Nice to meet you here, too.

      Thanks for writing,

      Susannah

  6. Rob Weiss says:

    Susannah:

    I love the fact that you are sharing this journey and I am so excited for you on your journey!

    While writing would not be my stop on the elevator, your tale inspires in me similar feelinfgs towards other more creative things in my life and the necessity of me doing these things before I suffer burn out.

    Thanks again for sharing your path and I am sure you are the most awesome mom ever!

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for commenting! It does feel a little scary to share something personal like this – but I also enjoy the opportunity to talk about my struggles in such a public way. Yay blogging!

      Good luck to you on YOUR creative journey. Let me know how it goes. πŸ™‚

      Susannah

  7. Susannah,

    I often feel your sense of panic! I panic because I’m not making as much as I would like, if my family depended on my freelance income, we definitely wouldn’t be able to survive. I feel very torn because I’m being pulled in so many directions (as you mention). I want to build my writing business, I want to be a great mom (two young kids) and I want to find peace with my life -keeping the “bigger picture” in mind. It is a constant struggle.

    It is definitely a journey and you are so courageous for taking the steps to fulfill your dreams. You’re starting, you’re going after your dream and I have a firm belief that when we put in our hard work, determination (and time management) the universe will be kind to us. πŸ™‚ I salute you for pursuing your dream.

    Don’t forget the lone girl who ventures out on her own, knowing full well she can’t turn back, eventually finds success and happiness. Be strong, and driven enough to get through the tough times and you’ll find your way. As always, wishing you the best of luck!

    • Hi Ahlam,

      Thanks for your sweet response. You’re right – the lone girl on her scary adventure DOES make it to the big city where she learns about life. And it’s comforting to know there are others in my position – although I wish it were easier for all of us. I think supporting each other is a great place to start, though. πŸ™‚

      Keep in touch, Ahlam!

      Susannah

  8. Bunny says:

    Inspiring ! I have been thinking of quiting my day job since ages now. but have not been able to gather the courage. though i have calculated that i just need around $500/month to survive. Hopefully soon ill make the leap !

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Bunny! I think I answered one of your questions on the blog recently…hope you got to see.

      I recommend instead of thinking, “I only need to make $500 a month,” think, “As a freelancer, my income potential is unlimited.” Which it is.

      That was my mindset, and I believe that’s why I now earn 50% MORE than I used to as a staff writer!

      I think a lot of writers have a poverty mentality, that their goal is to eke out a living…but dream bigger, and you might have a completely different lifestyle.

    • Hi Bunny,

      I’m glad my post was inspiring and not just depressing! I know just how you feel (obviously), and I also do just what Carol suggests we NOT do, which is to calculate exactly how little I can make and still get by. It just relaxes me to do that. But I take Carol’s point, too: We should dream big!

      Good luck, Bunny. Thanks for commenting.

      Susannah

      • Carol Tice says:

        Nothing against knowing what your ‘nut’ is — you need that figure. But you don’t want to aim to make only that! Because often, we fall short of our goals. And then you’re starving or homeless. So aim higher, to be sure you’re making that minimum you know you need!

  9. doug_eike says:

    I enjoyed reading about your journey, but I differ with you a bit on the need for a writing mentor. I am sure you already had significant skills when you started blogging, and your marketing experience didn’t hurt either. Most “mentors” are charlatans, and one must be extremely cautious when employing them. That said, if you know where you are on the learning curve, some help at the right time can do a lot to move you forward. Thanks for the article!

    • Hi Doug,

      I see your point, but I can say with authority that Carol (who is my mentor) is not one of the charlatans. Her experience helps guide you to the best gigs, and her encouragement and reminders to be accountable are invaluable. Having a mentor also connects you to others – like my writing this guest post! Thanks for the comment.

      Susannah

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Doug —

      I’ll let Susannah weigh in on this too…but as a writing mentor, I mostly agree with you! I’ve seen some shocking fees for mentors — $2,000-$8,000 isn’t uncommon. I purposely set my fee much lower, as I wanted one single, decent article assignment to cover it…and I’m hoping to create a new structure where it will be even more affordable in the near future.

      A couple standards I set — I don’t take everybody. I also only take three mentees a month, so I can concentrate on creating something really specific for their needs, and it doesn’t become sort of a mass-produced thing. Also, my philosophy is that I’m still mostly a freelance writer, as if I stopped doing that, my knowledge of markets and marketing would start to go out of date! So I need to leave room for client work.

      I only work with people I think I can really help. If they want help finding a publisher for their novel manuscript for instance, I pass, since that’s not my expertise.

      If I really think you don’t write well, I’m not going to take you on. But I rarely find that’s the issue.

      Most of the mentees I’ve had have great skills as writers and they could be earning a very nice living….but they’re not. They know they could be doing more to move their career forward, but often don’t know exactly what. They’re overwhelmed by options or paralyzed by fears.

      I’m able to give them the marketing tools and the accountability they need to start bringing in more business — we have monthly group “weigh-ins” where everyone reports on their progress. I find that makes a HUGE difference.

      I also expose them to a lot of potential markets they’re usually overlooking and help them broaden their outlook on where they could get gigs.

      Stay tuned — coming up another mentee is going to be writing about his mentoring experience, which has led him to end up making more than he ever did before working with me, including a previous stint as a staff writer.

      Before you hire a mentor, definitely ask for referrals from happy clients. Also ask if the mentor is still actively doing the thing they want to teach you, or if they just teach full-time. To me, you want the former.

  10. Sometime you just have to step outside of the box and get help..the more help the better person you will be.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”